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    Central America  --  Food & Drink

    Guatemalan Cooking Class in Beautiful Antigua

    Food and Culture Around the World

    Location: Antigua Guatemala

    I just sat down and counted up how many cooking classes I have taken in my travels and I come up with a total of 17.  It’s one of my most favorite things to do when I am in a new country.  And the Guatemalan cooking class I took last week in beautiful Antigua was one of my all-time favorites.

    (Note – if you are interested in the recipes read all the way to the end.)

    Okay, so I usually say that after every cooking class.  But I just loved it.  There is nothing that brings a culture to life as well as food and cooking with local people.

    Tortilla maker at the market

    Antigua

    First of all let me tell you what a lovely surprise Guatemala has been, and particularly the gorgeous, historic city of Antigua.  Colorful and alive with cultural events and history, Antigua is a perfect place to experience the best of Guatemala from art, history, religion and museums, to food

    Fresh and local at the market

    and scenery.  It’s perfect little package and I really enjoyed our time there.

    Searching online before we arrived I found the highly rated La Tortilla Cooking School offering several options for classes.  I signed up to do a morning market tour, followed by the full cooking class with six courses.  On arriving I learned I was the only student on this day! Wow.  It was the holiday weekend marking the beginning of Semana Santa (Holy Week) and most people are busy with other events.  So luckily for me, I was the center of attention!  So much fun.

    To Market to Market

    Julio met me on arrival and was my guide to the market and my translator throughout the day.  Julio is from Costa Rica and is the manager at the cooking school.

    Julio took me around the beautiful city and showed me two historic locations for the local market before taking me to the bustling market center.  Since it was a Saturday morning, it was exceptionally busy.

    La Tortilla Cooking School

    Local people packed the market and I only saw a handful of tourists.

    The very authentic market runs seven days a week but Saturday is the busiest day.  Vendors wearing traditional Mayan clothing were selling everything from beans to squash, flowers to pots and pans, dog food to chicken.  Anything you might need can be had at this sprawling market.  I surely would have gotten lost except Julio knew the way.  We purchased a squash for our class and a candied yam to try.

    Time to Cook

    Back at La Tortilla we welcomed a couple from Belgium who have just arrived to serve as volunteers for

    With Chef Sonia

    the next two weeks.  I then met Chef Sonia who would be my teacher today.  Sonia speaks no English and I speak no Spanish and so Julio served as our interpreter throughout the class.  This actually helped me learn a bit more Spanish too!

    Over the next two hours we made six traditional dishes, combining traditional Mayan dishes, Spanish dishes and Guatemalan dishes.  Most of the recipes were simple and all used local, fresh ingredients. Here is what I learned to make;

    Atol Blanco a warm drink made from corn flour is one of the most Guatemalan of all Guatemalan dishes.  Guatemalans drink this more than coffee.  It can be served sweet with sugar and cinnamon or savory with salt, lime juice, chile and roasted ground pumpkin seeds.  I loved

    Atol Blanco

    the savory one!

    Beet Salad was made by boiling the beets with the skin on, then removing the skin and dicing with onion and lime juice, thyme and salt.

    Guatemalan Rice has its roots in Mayan culture but also was influenced by the Spanish who brought many staples to the region like spices and peppers.  Our version included onion and carrot.

    Pepian was the most complicated of the dishes we created. Considered the national dish of Guatemala, this delicious spicy meat stew (chicken or pork usually) uses roasted vegetables and spices to create a rich and flavorful base for the stew.  It was my favorite thing of the day.

    Rellinitos Julio had promised me a surprise ingredient in our dessert and sure enough I would never of thought to include BLACK BEANS

    Spices for Pepian

    with chocolate, and wrap mashed plantains around it.  But that is exactly what we did for our delicious Rellinitos, a favorite Guatemalan dessert.

    Tortillas of course a cooking class in Guatemala would include tortillas and I learned that this favorite

    Making tortillas

    items of only two ingredients (corn flour and water) is a lot harder to make than I thought.  Rolling a ball with your hands and flattening the tortilla to the  perfect size and consistency took a bit of practice.  So delicious fresh off the fire.

    Such a feast

    Time to Eat

    Being the only one in the class I was left to enjoy ALL THIS FOOD by myself as the volunteers and Chef Sonia cleaned up and got ready for the afternoon class.  I hardly made a dent on the quantity of food they set before me so they kindly packaged it up and sent it home for me to share with Arne.

    I would highly recommend La Tortilla Cooking School if you visit Antigua (and you should).  I know I can take what I learned and prepare these dishes again.

    Would you like the full recipes?  All you need to do is leave me a comment IN THIS BLOG BELOW (not on Facebook) with your email address and I will send you the PDF file I received from La Tortilla.

    I am happy to share so you too can savor the wonderful flavors of this magical, colorful country of Guatemala.

    Muy Bien!

     

     

     

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Five Presidents by Clint Hill

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    This story is truly incredible.  But so is the way I stumbled onto this book.

    I follow Mike Rowe on Facebook…you know the funny “Dirty Jobs” guy in the baseball hat.  A month or more ago I saw a post from Mike Rowe about meeting a guy in a bar.  An older gentleman who ordered a drink called a “Clint”.  When the bartender was puzzled, the man pulled a card from his pocket, on one side was his name and information and on the other, the recipe for his favorite and personal drink the “Clint”.

    Of course Mike Rowe was intrigued and they struck up a conversation.  I don’t know how long the spoke but I do know Rowe was flabbergasted to find that he was sitting next to a man who had first hand experience at some of our countries most poignant and sorrowful moments.  Mr. Clint Hill, who served five Presidents in the Secret Service.  Mr. Clint Hill, who infamously is the agent clinging to the back of the convertible while Jackie Kennedy reaches across the trunk of that car to collect pieces of her husbands brain.

    Yes that man.  He ordered a “Clint”.

    Rowe later writes about his meeting Hill on his Facebook page, and suddenly sales of his book “Five Presidents” rockets on Amazon.  I am one of those people who purchased the book for my Kindle and I learn that Hill has also written two other best sellers “Five Days in November” and “Me and Mrs.Kennedy”.

    So that is how I came to find this book.  And once I started it I couldn’t put it down.  Writing with the help of author Lisa McCubbin, Hill describes his incredible life as a secret service agent, beginning with President Eisenhower and ending with President Ford…through some of this nations most turbulent times; assasinations, civil rights, Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, Watergate and so much more – Clint Hill had a front row seat to it all.

    It’s funny because I never really thought that much about what these men (and now women) sacrifice in the line of duty.  Hill admittedly left the service when the unnamed (at the time) post traumatic stress disorder drove him to alcohol.  He sacrificed seeing his children grow as he traveled all over the world.  He slept little and gave 110% every day of his long career.

    And it all is spelled-out in the fascinating book about a fascinating man and his fascinating journey.

    Five stars for Five Presidents.  A remarkable read.

    Read last week’s review of Nectar in a Sieve

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    (Note – following the tragic fire yesterday at the iconic Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, I am compelled to share this blog again.  Ken Follett’s Book Pillars of the Earth, although based in England, is one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read, focused on cathedral building in the Middle Ages. This brilliant story is what I thought of all day yesterday as Notre Dame burned – thinking about the people who created this and other majestic structural wonders during the  period.

    Today I mourn the loss of historic structure and art while saluting those humans whose perseverance created it all. Who deserve our thanks and reverence.  We can be confident it will rise again.)

    The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

    A Saga.  A Gripping historical novel from contemporary writer Ken Follett.  Published in 1989, how is it that I have waited so long to read this masterpiece?  I absolutely love The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.

    As a full time traveler, I have been witness to some of the most remarkable cathedrals in the world.  And I have often felt flabbergasted at the thought of how these monstrous but beautiful buildings could possibly been constructed in an age with no machinery, electricity, power or technology.  These monuments to God are truly a wonder.

    Little did I know all this time that Ken Follett had in the 1970’s felt the same, and over a decade of time he wrote his brilliant masterpiece The Pillars of the Earth.  I am so glad I found this book.  My eyes have been opened and my appreciation will be far greater still, when next I stand in front of one of these masterpiece architectural wonders.

    The Pillars of the Earth is set in 12th century England, a time of anarchy and war, brutal famine and poverty, royal power and catholic corruption.  The story follows a memorable cast of characters who you grow to love as they struggle in their own existence, as well as a brutal cast of characters – power hungry and evil, who you despise.  Follett’s ability to bring together this believable group of people, set against real historical events and characters in a time of medieval anarchy is a masterful work of fiction.  The author builds the story alongside the building of the magnificent Kingsbrige Cathedral, despite fire and pillaging, death and destruction, backstabbing and power grabbing at every corner.

    The Pillars of the Earth is ambitious to say the least.  Masterful at its best.  And written with compassion for the everyday people of the time – just trying to survive in a world where any day could bring disaster.

    Spectacular classical reading at its best. 

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Five stars for The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

    Read what Wikipedia has to say about Pillars of the Earth here.

    Read last week’s review of The Keeper of Lost Things.

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    Adventure Travel  --  Central America

    Learning About Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Location: Central America

    Cultural Travel

    San Andres, El Salvador

    Exploring and learning about ancient cultures is one of the most rewarding things about travel.  Cultivating an understanding of the powerful communities that came before our own, helps us appreciate both historic and modern-day social structures.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Joya de Ceren, El Salvador

    It’s one of the reasons I so often encourage travelers to seek out these experiences and adventures.  Sure, go to the beach, enjoy that Margarita, go snorkeling.  But don’t miss the opportunity when traveling to grasp something about the majesty of the ground you are standing on and the hundreds of generations of people who have walked it, worked it, became part of it in their end.

     

     

    Cradle of Civilization

    Caracol, Belize

    Xunantunich, Belize

    We have spent the last four months in Central America, where several amazing cultures played a significant role, long before the Spanish arrived.  One of the most ancient of these was the Maya people.  Considered one of the six “cradles of civilization” world-wide, the Central American countries of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador were home to this fascinating civilization.  To clarify the term Cradle of Civilization, here is Wikipedia’s explanation;

    “The term cradle of civilization has frequently been applied to a variety of cultures and areas, in particular the Ancient Near Eastern Chalcolithic (Ubaid period) and Fertile Crescent, Ancient India and Ancient China. It has also been applied to ancient Anatolia, the Levant and Iranian plateau, and used to refer to culture predecessors—such as Ancient Greece as the predecessor of Western civilization.”

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Altun Ha, Belize

    Our travels have taken us to ancient lands of Egypt, Jordan, India and Bangladesh.  We have also learned fascinating ancient history about Eastern Europe, Northern and Eastern Africa, China, Southeast Asia, and Greece.  And so it was with great interest that I began to understand that right here in Central America another great civilization thrived.

     

    The Maya People

    But before I go on please understand that Maya is a living culture. More than half the population of present day Guatemala are Mayan.  Though the ancient civilization communities are no more, the Mayan people continue their traditions.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    The oldest Mayan findings are in Belize, dating back to 2600 BC.  Ruins of great civilizations are strewn all around this

    Tikal Guatemala

    region, some excavated, many not.  Archeologists don’t all agree as to what caused the demise of the massive Maya communities in approximately 900 AD (well before the Spanish arrived).  But warfare between cities, over production of the land and drought are all thought to have contributed.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    The Maya people, like many other ancient civilizations, had an advanced calendar, written language and hierarchical social structure.  They were known as great architects (hence so many temples and entire cities still standing), artists, weapon developers and cultivators of the land.  They used the local raw materials in remarkable ways.  In Guatemala the cultivation of the cacao was (and is) important and cacao was used as currency.

    In addition it is known that they believed cacao offered both a cure and a sacrifice, and drinking cacao mixed with blood was a common ritual as was bloodletting.

    Visiting Mayan Ruins

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    During our time in Central America we visited many interesting ruins; two in El Salvador, four in Belize and the granddaddy of all, Tikal (outside the town of Flores) in Guatemala.  Each offered its own perspective on the rich and powerful Maya tribes.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    Today Maya people in these countries can trace their ancestry back to these ancient societies and be very proud.  Many local Maya work hard to preserve the culture, arts and traditions and share them with visitors.  However, the Maya, particularly in the poorest countries like Guatemala, struggle. During the Spanish occupation and more recent political unrest the Maya have been continually pushed out of their lands…many to the mountainous regions no one else wanted.  Today you will find them subsisting in agricultural communities in the hard-scrabble rocky soil, or in the more populated cities such as Antigua selling crafts or food products.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Colorful Mayan women at market

    I was particularly struck by the beauty of the Maya women, the colorful traditional clothing they still maintain today and the sense that family, hard work and religion is their life’s priority.

    During my short time in beautiful Central America I have been intrigued and surprised by the beauty of the people and the geography and especially intrigued by the history of the ancient people. Muy Bien! A fabulous experience when visiting Central America.

     

     

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    Adventure Travel

    Sleeping Around – Our Adventures with Beds, Baths and Beyond

    Location: Around the World

    This week marks three years since we walked away from our house of 15 years in Gig Harbor Washington and began our nomad life.

    Adventures with Beds Baths and Beyond

    Bunk beds in El Salvador

    Three years.  Holy Cow the time has gone by so fast.  When we began this crazy adventure we didn’t know if it would last six months or six years.  I guess six years is looking pretty likely.

    I’ve said all along this lifestyle is not for everyone.  There are times where it’s not for me.  But in general there are more positives than negatives and it now feels like a normal way to live.  For us anyway.

    Adventures with Beds Baths and Beyond

    Concrete Tub in Bali

    Adventures with Beds Baths and Beyond

    Bed & Kitchen all in one in Sri Lanka

    There are definitely challenges, and one of the biggest challenge is sleeping in so many beds. Along with all those beds comes all those bathrooms.  Sometimes if I wake up in the middle of the night and gotta go…I need to take a minute and really think about where I am and what is the path to the potty?

    As of this writing, we have slept in a total of 197 different beds over the three years.  That includes the ten weeks we stayed in a condo after we sold our house (the longest we have stayed anywhere in three years) as well as all the different albuergues, hostels, hotels and pensions we slept in on both of our Camino walks.

    That’s a lot of beds.  The best part?  We have yet to encounter bed bugs anywhere.

    Last week we stayed in, well let’s say, “rustic” accommodations in Guatemala.  Mind you Guatemala is one of the poorest nations in the world and has only been open to tourists for ten years.  But the mattress sagged, the horrible satin sheets refused to stay put and the shower head kept falling off.

    Adventures with Beds Baths and Beyond

    The worst bed in Hanoi

    However, overall most of the beds we have slept in have been comfortable.  My requirement in a good mattress is harder is better than softer.  I have memories of two horrible mattresses, each so soft I could barely get out of bed in the morning.  The worst one was in Hanoi, the second worst in Ladyville, Belize.

    Adventures with Beds Baths and Beyond

    Had to go outside to the bath in Santorini

    And, coincidentally (or maybe not), one of the worst bathrooms was also in our Hanoi apartment.  We have learned that bathrooms throughout the world vary widely.  Flushers on toilets are different in nearly every country.  More than half the time you cannot flush toilet paper.  Showers often have no hot water.  Some times toilets are raised up on a platform (we call those the throne), or are in a separate room from the sink and shower.  Showers might be huge and elegant or so tiny you can’t bend over.  Some showers are open and get the entire bathroom wet, so keeping towels and toilet paper outside of the bathroom is required. Oh and bugs, centipedes and geckos sometimes enjoy our showers too. I learned the hard way to turn the light on for middle of the night visits to the loo.

    Often the septic or local sewer is well below what we take for granted in the USA.  In Placencia, Belize our Airbnb was at minus sea level and this made for interesting and usually incomplete flushing.

    In New Zealand we stayed in a cabin with an outhouse.  Also in New Zealand we spent four weeks in a camper with a port-a-potty.  Very tricky at night.

    Of course kitchens and other things vary as well.  It’s all part of the ongoing adventure.

    Adventures with Beds Baths and Beyond

    Twin beds in Santa Domingo Spain

    So like I’ve said – it’s not for everyone.  You really have to have a sense of adventure and approach each place with low expectations.  That way, you are usually pleasantly surprised.  Only once, has a place been bad enough for us to leave (read it here).

    Adventures with Beds Baths and Beyond

    Glamping in New Zealand

    We have a month of travel left before we return to the USA for a four-month visit.  During our time in the USA we will settle into a condo we bought (sight unseen) a few months ago.  This condo will become our home when we are in the USA, but we plan to continue to travel for a majority of each year, at least for a few more years and maybe forever.

    Because, well, there are a lot more beds and baths we haven’t seen yet!  Fabulous!

     

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    This is a depressing story. A very real look at the incredibly difficult life of many people in India. This book was first published in 1954, and although there has been much improvement in the lives of people in India, there are still people like Rukmani.

    Rukmani tells the story of her life from child bride to widow.  The very difficult life of a serf farmer, a mother of several sons and a daughter during a turbulent and changing time, and a woman just trying to hold her family together and survive day-to-day.

    I have read several books over the years with similar themes.  One of the best books I have ever read follows the plight of a young man in India.  I highly recommend A Fine Balance, a book that remains one of my favorites of all time.  And though Nectar in a Sieve is not as good, it is still a sad and helpless tale – one that most of us cannot possible ever fully comprehend. And for that exact reason you should read it.

    The book reminded me of the classic The Good Earth by Pearl S.Buck.  However The Good Earth has a slightly happier ending.  Nectar in a Sieve does not end happily.  In fact, there is very few happy moments in the entire book.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️Three stars for Nectar in a Sieve by Kamal Markandaya

    Read last week’s review of The Pecan Man

    Adventure Travel  --  Central America  --  Inspire

    “No Problem” Kayak, Camp and Fabulous Women

    Adventure Travel in My Fabulous Fifties

    Location: Belize

    It was convenient, since I was already in Belize.  When I heard about this kayak, camp Belize trip I asked Arne if he thought we might extend our time in Belize so I could go on this trip?  He said sure.  So it was really easy.  With the push of a few buttons I was onboard to kayak with a group of women coming to Belize from the USA.

    I didn’t  give it a lot of thought.  I just thought it might be fun.  But when all was said and done it was much more than just fun.  It was many things unexpected and rich, and more than anything, it was a fabulous adventure with fabulous women.

    No Problem

    Our amazing guide Eric became notorious for saying “no problem” for any question we asked or problem we posed.  He was amazing and made the journey so simple. Eric’s tour company Belizean Style (recoronald@gmail.com), was contracted by Kayak Belize to guide us through the week.  Bainbridge Island, Washington based Journey for a Purpose was the lead organization, who pulled together 12 women to experience this together.  The 12 of us, aged 30-72, came from many different backgrounds, places, professions and experiences.  And yet we fit together like a beautiful puzzle.  It was fate.

    Beautiful

    Sometimes I am hard to impress, given the amount of territory I have covered.  But this place – the cayes off the coast of Belize – is almost indescribable.  Azure blue, turquoise green, golden-yellow, royal purple.  These are the colors of the world-famous reef and seas.  Jungle green, sandy pink, cocoa brown, chalky white.  These are the colors of the tiny private atolls.  So much beauty everywhere you turn.

    Empowering

    I’ve had some amazing moments in my life that have empowered me, when I’ve found myself doing things I might otherwise turn to Arne and expect him to do for me or with me.  Everything from setting up a tent, riding my bike across the state of Washington, walking 487 miles on the Camino to climbing a mountain.  On this kayak journey, I found myself figuring out the logistics of equipment.  Paddling the single kayak without Arne’s help. Finding private time when I needed it.  As much as I adore my husband it’s always a good feeling when I’m left to my own powerful decision making.

    Difficult

    We had some big winds and some tough paddle days.  My back hurt and my arms felt like jelly but I made myself endure.  The high winds and rain also surprised us early one morning and our tents flapped and threatened to sail away.  But it was amazing how everyone worked together.  How Mr. No Problem Eric was there to help.  How we laughed about it after.  We were strong. Invincible. Fierce.

    Inspiring

    As a group we spent time each day in “circle”.  Here we practiced the art of listening, more than telling. Each woman had time to talk about herself, her background, her greatest challenge, her greatest achievement.  While each spoke the others listened intently with acceptance and support.  It’s not something I am usually comfortable with, but the format made me so.  It was open, acknowledging and welcoming.  It was real and refreshing and full.  It was inspirational.

    Peaceful

    The atoll we were camping at is Moho Caye.  It is about 13 miles out on the reef from Placencia. From 10am-3pm day trippers can visit the island.  Some days as many as twenty people might show up, while other days perhaps only five.  But from 3pm to 10am we had the entire island to ourselves.  We all agreed it was spectacular.  It was a cross between Gilligan’s Island and Castaway.  A remarkable opportunity to relish the beauty of a private island to ourselves.  We sung around the campfire and skinny dipped in the ocean.  This was our island and we embraced it and it in return it showered us with lovely memories.

    Hilarious

    There is absolutely nothing in the world so wonderful as belly laughing.  Laugh yourself silly.  Laugh yourself happy.  Laugh yourself healthy.  It’s cleansing and exhausting and wonderful to laugh fully with abandon.  And we did.  We laughed over stories. We laughed over songs.  We laughed over games.  We found so much to bring smile and laughter to our time together, even though we had known each other such a short while.  It was a happy and full experience of genuine spirited female fun.

    Positive

    Our wonderful leaders Spring and Maria from Journey for a Purpose found a variety of positive ways to bring us together as a group from snorkeling with sharks, rays and turtles to kayaking to singing to sharing.  But in addition some of my most favorite moments were when we all did yoga together on the beach, creating an awareness within us as well as pulling the positive energy into our bodies.  We also spent time making beach art and describing our beach art to each other.  One day we walked around our island and brought back something from nature.  We then spent time with Mr. No Problem Eric and learned something about the items we found.  Then together we shared.  It was great fun as the items collected ranged from a gecko to driftwood, from coral to leaves and branches. Our island shared its deep natural history.

    Affirming

    While on our island, one of the women got the news that her father-in-law had passed away.  As much as she felt she should be home with her family, we became her family that day and showered her with love. We helped memorialize a man we didn’t know, but it was so easy because we were all on the same wave-length.  It was very affirming to me, to feel the love and joy being heaped on our friend and her departed kin.  But for me it was also affirming to my life’s mission of living each moment as if it were my last.  Of caring for myself in a way that gives me the strength to care for others.  And above all, being fully present.  A reminder to center myself and just be. This was a gift.

    Journey for a Purpose

    This is my second experience with Journey for a Purpose and I have loved both.  You can find more information about them at the website link above.  A few spots are still available for their Blake Island, Washington trips this summer.

    I recently stumbled upon this quote, and it epitomizes for me how I feel about my kayak camping adventure as well as my daily life;

    “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no man’s land.” – Pema Chodron

    I was thrown from the nest n this adventure and loved it immensely. Thank you for challenging me and loving me and for my new friends who I hope to meet again someday.  To Spring, Maria, Pamela, Susan, Suzanne, Eileen, Kathy, Nadine, Meg, Katie, Kelly, Ian (our cook) and Mr. No Problem Eric, I salute you.  I hope you find what you are looking for and I wish you joy.

    Fabulous!

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